BWW Reviews: Rosie Herrera Dance Theater Nourishes the Body and Reveals the Soul in DINING ALONE
Some say that the eyes are the window to the soul, but Rosie Herrera's evening-length work, Dining Alone, offers an alternative. Based on her childhood experiences observing people eating at her father's restaurant, Dining Alone reveals a particular fascination with solo diners, examining the solidarity of aging, the innate nostalgia involved in the full sensorial experience of eating, and the true connection between nourishing the body and nourishing the soul.
Dining Alone opens on a long dinner table jutting out toward the audience. Dancer Octavio Campos sits at the head of the table, engaged in a lip-synched conversation with a display of a dozen overly enthused cardboard cutouts of dinner guests. Campos comments on the live piano in the background - a tinkling version of "Part of Your World" from Disney's The Little Mermaid. He makes small talk and gradually becomes more and more panicked, since his guests who are, presumably, to fill the empty chairs to his immediate left and right have not arrived yet. In the heat of his panic, two huge fans disrupt the scene, blowing down the cardboard guests and upsetting the table.
Campos is left along with a white dress around his shoulders, trailing behind him like a cape. He takes the stage in a huge, heroic circle, accompanied by Eric Carmen's "All By Myself." The audience chuckles, but the melancholy is tangible, and everyone prepares for an evening of sweet discomfort promising moments that make you wish you could help, wish you could join in, and wish you were not there. Finally Campos holds the dress at shoulder level, and as several dancers support the bottom of the dress, it makes a voluminous shell for a body that never arrives.
Dining Alone traces the lines of a several of scenarios, snapping seamlessly in and out of scenes and tenses. A young man sits alone at a small table. Later, he drags a woman across the stage at the same table. In conclusion they sit together at the same table with two empty plates. The woman plants her face on the empty plate, and the man proceeds to eat her hair like spaghetti while "So This is Love," dapples the air around them. All the while, a mysterious woman floats on and off the stage giving human form to the white dress Campos lamented over in the first scene. Later, Campos dons the dress, minus the back of the skirt, repeating his heroic circle in bare-assed fervor. Again, the mysterious woman returns, this time in red, to drape herself across the table of the young man who had mistaken his date's hair for spaghetti. Like watching a film, Herrera allows stories to rise and fall by braiding them into one another, each plucking at the heartstrings made tender by what has happened and what has yet to come.
Singing waiters in tuxedos transform the space. White dinner plates create moments of palpable insecurity. The dancers trust the breakable kitchenware as a secure prop, gingerly walking across the plates like stepping stones, attempting demanding solos while balancing on them and sliding across the floor, and rolling the plates helter-skelter around and across the stage. The result is jittery at its core, but its surface imitates self-assurance. Herrera soothes this with good, old-fashioned pie-in-the-face humor when three women burry their faces in cream pies, while a voice recording of a scene from Snow White is played, only coming up for air to mouth their assigned characters voices. Still covered in pie, Ivonne Batanero joins Octavio Campos for a romantic encounter in which Campos proceeds to sensually lick the whipped cream off Bantanero's face.
Like eating, Herrera's work is a full sensorial experience that transport everyone involved to the darkest corners of their past, present, and future. Comedy is her implement of choice, and it is used to plunge the audience into deep fears and insecurities and then pull them out again with a lighthearted reminder that our fears are not isolating. Fear, like eating, is a universal experience. Dining Alone uses the universal experience of nourishment as a buoyant landmark for the various phases of life we have faced or have yet to face.
Photography by J. Cervantes